My online handle used to be Flower. I enjoyed the idea of ultra-competitive gamers with tags like n00bSlay3r and Death4all getting capped by someone bearing a name completely incongruous with the action taking place in the game. I imagined them sitting in their chairs wondering what sort of person would pick such a lame name just moments before seeing the words "UrLifetAker was incinerated by Flower" scroll across their screens. I've carried an affinity for the word ever since.
Perhaps that's the reason I downloaded a new game dubbed Flower that came available on Sony's PlayStation Network this week. It's such an improbable moniker for a game released on a platform known for guns and swords that I wanted to see what it was about. I'm glad I took the risk.
Flower is an innovative, serene, and wholly delightful interactive experience. It suggests that lonely urban flowers spend their final moments before blooming dreaming of what it might be like to float on breezes over far-off fields. Players take control of this dream, guiding at first one petal, then dozens, and eventually hundreds by directing a digital draught that sends them flittering through meadows and canyons, causing other flowers to bloom, bringing colour to yellow and grey swaths of grassland, and even restoring power to dead wind turbines.
There is no heads up display, no lives to lose, no points to be won. Players simply tilt and turn Sony's motion sensitive SIXAXIS controller to control the direction from which the breeze blows, and press a single button-any button-to alter the wind's strength. It's a brilliant achievement in accessible and intuitive interface design.
What's more, the graphics are stunning. In the later moments of most stages there are hundreds-perhaps even a thousand-colourful flower petals moving through the air at any given time. And when I sent my breeze low to the ground it pushed aside hundreds of individual blades of grass like a more tranquil version of Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea. The score, composed of a series of gentle, flowing orchestral movements, completes the game's perfectly calming atmosphere.
I've never seen anything quite like Flower before. I expect the experience of floating over the countryside surrounded by flickering dabs of colour to be one that stays with me for years to come.
Standing in stark contrast to Flower's gentle rhythms is Savage Moon, another recent PlayStation Network release filled with hectic battles and cacophonous gunfire. It's the latest entry in the burgeoning tower defence genre-which is composed of games that have players building and strategically placing dozens of towers in a small area with an aim to fend off a steady stream of ever more powerful enemies-and it's one of the best I've seen.
It puts players in the shoes of a commander assigned to defend the mining facilities of several moons. All of the standard accoutrements of the category are here, including a monetary system based on the number of enemies dispatched and a wide variety of tower upgrades. However, there are also a few novel features, like the ability to increase tower armour, tower attack power, or resource collection at the expense of the other two, as well as the capability to summon fresh waves of foes before they're due to receive an economic reward. The fact that it's one of the most polished looking and professional sounding games yet made for the genre is just a bonus.
Granted, tower defence games appeal to a particular breed, and Savage Moon probably won't win any converts, buts it's worth a peek for gamers who cue to the intricacies of and strategies involved with turret construction and maintenance.
Still, if you have only a few dollars to spend on downloadable games this month, I'd recommend Flower. Even if blowing petals over grassy fields turns out not to be your cup of tea, it's an undeniably original experience you won't soon forget.